Date
28 March 2017
'Have you met Steve Jobs? I have, I really have,'  Secretary for Innovation and Technology Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung (left) said during a forum on the chief executive's policy address last week. Photo: i-Cable
'Have you met Steve Jobs? I have, I really have,' Secretary for Innovation and Technology Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung (left) said during a forum on the chief executive's policy address last week. Photo: i-Cable

The art of name-dropping

Name-dropping turns most people off, but there are ways to do it to your benefit.

Psychologists at the University of Zurich conducted a controlled experiment in 2009 in which participants were introduced to a stranger who name-dropped to various degrees.

The volunteers, students from the university, were then asked to rate this stranger on several key dimensions.

The researchers decided to use the name of national tennis hero Roger Federer, who achieved a career grand slam that year.

The students were randomly assigned to one of four “name-dropping conditions” in which the stranger either (1) didn’t mention Federer at all; (2) mentioned he (or she) was a fan of Federer; (3) claimed to be a personal friend of Federer; or (4) claimed to be Federer’s personal friend and workout buddy.

At the end, students were asked to rate this stranger on several key dimensions.

The study found that those who claimed to be Federer’s friend or both his friend and workout buddy were considered significantly less likeable and less competent in general than did those in the other two conditions.

In Switzerland, the tennis star is a well-liked national figure. But those who claimed to be close friends with him were significantly less appealing socially.

Much similar research has arrived at a similar conclusion.

Name-dropping is usually socially unpopular behavior.

That’s because most people are not good at name-dropping — they do it in an obvious manner and show poor taste.

Nevertheless, name-dropping can have a positive impact if used properly.

Here are some tips from Stephen Boyd, professor of speech communication at Northern Kentucky University, and Ladd Wheeler, a professor at Macquarie University.

1. Don’t go too far

Don’t brag about your association with super-celebrities, which will annoy most people. Even if you had afternoon tea with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth or spoke with US President Barack Obama over the phone, don’t name-drop about that. 

2. Deploy name-dropping carefully

It’s a delicate maneuver. If you want to steer the discussion to a subject, plant a seed so that you can name-drop in response. It makes you look well-rounded and impress others.

Name-dropping is more suitable for private conversations or insider gatherings, rather than public forums or speeches.

3. Make it relevant

The name has to be relevant to what you are talking about. That makes others believe you are forced to mention the name so as to explain your point.

4. Use it properly

People try to boost the perception of their authority by mentioning an association with famous person. Sometimes, it works just the opposite, and others will label you a name-dropper.

Instead, name-dropping is more appropriate for closing the gap between you and others.

You don’t need to brag about your relationship with a celebrity. Instead, you could mention mutual friends or people from the other person’s family, school or employer.

That would help the other person to feel closer to you.

(Cantonese only)

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 22.

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]

JZ/DY/FL

Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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